The day before she died, Teddra King gave her friend some advice. She told D’Shandra Perry, “Life is short, you just have to get through it.”
Perry, 13, wore all black Saturday, as she watched a carriage drawn by two mottled gray horses carry her friend to her grave.
The small carriage had windows on all sides draped with silver curtains, which framed the cloud-patterned coffin inside. The outside of the coffin was decorated with green grass, red flowers, hearts and pictures of Teddra wearing a crown.
“Princess,” her family called her. The Florida City 13-year-old was a tomboy who loved to crack jokes, and she made everyone around her happy. Her last act moments before her death was to give her 17-year-old brother, Martaevious Santiago, a birthday hug. When she turned around, he shot her in the head. He told police it was an accident. He was charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child and possession of a weapon during the commission of a felony.
On Saturday afternoon, it was standing room only inside Second Baptist Church as more than 200 people gathered to say goodbye to Teddra with songs, poetry, prayers and interpretive dance.
Dozens wore shirts commemorating the young girl. “We miss you,” one read. “Long live Teddra.”
The family, nearly 80 people, arrived en masse in a procession of white stretch Hummers. They streamed into the church and clustered near the casket with their arms around each other and tears streaking down their faces. Others fanned the clump of mourners with programs, printed with the same cloud pattern as Teddra’s coffin.
Inside the program was a note from her mother, Lakesha Bess, titled “My Twin.”
“It’s going to be so hard for me without my greedy baby asking for this and that; getting in my bed when you come home from school, sleeping until dinner is ready,” Bess wrote. “My dear Rosie, blossom in heaven and give heaven the same happiness you gave to us.”
In between some of Teddra’s favorite church songs and Bible readings, six of her classmates from Homestead Middle stood in front of her casket in white dresses and held letters embroidered with red plastic roses. They spelled out her nickname, “ROSIEE,” with each letter symbolizing a part of her personality.
“S,” the young girl reading the poem said, “is for never forgetting that pretty smile she had.” She choked back sobs and spelled out the rest of the letters: R for Rosie, O for outgoing, I for intelligence and E for entertaining.
The extra E was for “everybody,” she said, because “everybody loved her.”
By the time Rev. Dr. Alphonso Jackson Sr. began his eulogy, some in the crowd were openly weeping.
“I’ve been doing this for over 30-some-odd years, and I will never get used to this,” he said solemnly. “I will never get used to saying words of comfort over young people.”
He paused, and studied the mourners for a moment.
“I wish I could take all their guns away,” he said. This was met with loud applause, cheers and shouts of “Amen.”
“They are so fascinated with weapons,” Jackson said. “And as a result of it, so many are gone too soon.”
He thanked God for Teddra’s brief but joyful life. Her friends said they’ll miss having Teddra around to cheer them up whenever they’re sad. Her cousin said she’ll miss her favorite beach buddy.
Her great-uncle, Larry King, said he’ll miss her, but he knows she’s not done singing or dancing or making art.
“She’s doing the same up in heaven,” he said, gesturing toward the sky.